Woodstock landlord facing more lawsuits

WOODSTOCK – The landlord called out during a public outcry for tenant rights now faces three separate lawsuits.

A fourth, between Advantage Plus Property Management and McHenry County resident Scott Sharp, was dismissed Thursday after the two sides came to a non-monetary agreement, said Dominic Buttitta, the attorney for Sharp and three others who've filed suit against the Woodstock-based landlord.

"No one should be a victim in their own home," said Buttitta, a former McHenry County Assistant State's Attorney whose private practice is based in Barrington. "We're advocating for the victims of Woodstock, of McHenry County, in the landlord-tenant area."

Poor rental conditions in some properties was slingshotted into public view at a September Woodstock City Council meeting. There, about 20 people came in support of increased rights for tenants. Several shared their stories of their landlord's neglect for their property issues, from mold and standing water to broken appliances.

The city eventually passed a property maintenance ordinance – a measure that officials said gave them another tool to stand up to abusive landlords, but one that ultimately still runs on a complaint-based code enforcement system.

Bill Zieske and Denise Halverson – a married couple who moved to Woodstock in 2013 – became de facto leaders of the tenant group, and were later served eviction papers in what they viewed as retaliation for making their issues public. The couple filed a 61-page counterclaim.

Advantage Plus and Owner Mary Brown withdrew the original complaint earlier this year.

"Mr. Zieske's lease ends on April 30, and because of everything involved in the case, we couldn't get the eviction heard by then, so we withdrew it," said Michael Poper, attorney for Advantage Plus.

Zieske and Halverson and still pursuing compensation. Their counterclaim alleges neglect, consumer fraud, a breach of the lease and assault, among many other claims.

"Our goal is, number one, to have acknowledgement by Mary Brown and Advantage Plus of what they've been doing," Buttitta said. "And obviously compensation for harm that's been done to [Zieske and Halverson]."

Sharp, who had a one-month lease in an Advantage Plus-run Woodstock apartment before moving into another of the business' rentals in Marengo, had filed suit seeking deposit money he was owed from the one-month lease, Buttitta said.

"I was just told, as his lawyer, to dismiss that case," Buttitta said. "He's moving out of that (Marengo) house and that lease is being terminated. ... It's good for him because he's out of a place that was going to have a lot of problems, that was already having problems."

Buttitta has filed two other cases against Advantage Plus on behalf of Woodstock tenants. Both seek money owed from deposits, he said.

Poper said the landlord denies owing any money.

"Anyone has a right to file a lawsuit. That doesn't necessarily mean they have a right to win the lawsuit or that they're correct in filing it," Poper said. "We intend to prove that Mary has not violated anything."

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